The story of The Theatre School is as multi-faceted as any we've ever told onstage.
The Theatre School at DePaul University was founded as the Goodman School of Drama in 1925. Our history begins with three seemingly separate events occurring in Chicago in the early 20th century: DePaul's Department of Drama is created; a magnificent Broadway-style theatre is built; and a young playwright's passions for theatre lead to his memorialization in a school and professional theatre. These events set into motion a story that defines The Theatre School today.
A man named Kenneth Sawyer Goodman is born. He develops a passion for playwriting, studies at Princeton University, and dreams of opening a theatre that combines a repertory company with a dramatic arts school, where classes would be taught by professional artists and actors.
DePaul University’s tradition in theatre begins with the opening of The College Theatre on Sheffield Ave. Built under the leadership of DePaul’s very first President, the Rev. Peter V. Byrne, the building is meant for use by the public and as an assembly and performance hall for the students. Economic problems quickly prevent the long-term development of the College Theatre’s professional stature, though student productions continue at the building until the late 1920s.
William & Erna Goodman (Kenneth's parents) give a gift to the Art Institute of Chicago in order to build a theatre as a memorial to their son.
Under the leadership of executive secretary and children's theatre visionary Muriel Brown, the school presents the first planned season of performances for children in the United States – starting with The Golden Apple by Gregory Laby.
David Itkin, of the famed Russian theatre company Habima, immigrates to Chicago and is hired by Stevens to direct a production of
by H. Leivick. He speaks no English but doesn't use an interpreter. He directs the play by tones of voice only. Read part of the program below.
DePaul’s Department of Drama opens a building at 64 East Lake Street, with large classrooms for acting and "The Little Theatre" on the third floor. Goodman faculty member David Itkin seeks additional teaching opportunities—connects with DePaul—and produces numerous plays in the first year at 64 E. Lake St. including the world premiere of Fritz Blocki’s The World Between. Itkin continues to teach and direct at both the Goodman School of Drama and at DePaul University’s Department of Drama.
Poster from Hamlet directed by David Itkin. Courtesy of DePaul University Special Collections and Archives.
The Repertory presents 44 productions in its first five years and is enormously successful until the stock market crashes in1929, bringing a serious decline of audience members. After the financial failure of the 1930-1931 season, the Art Institute votes to close the Repertory and operate only the Studio, now renamed the Goodman School of Drama. Stevens resigns, and Dr. Maurice Gnesin is appointed the new head of the school.
Photo: Dr. Maurice Gnesin, Courtesy The Theatre School at DePaul University.
One of the most important figures in the history of the Goodman Children's Theatre comes to school when Dr. Gnesin hires Charlotte B. Chorpenning as Children's Theatre Director. Chorpenning becomes the most powerful influence in the children's movement during her 24 years at the school. In her lifetime, she writes at least 55 plays, virtually doubling the mid-century repertoire of American children's plays at a time when few professional playwrights wrote for young audiences.
David Itkin appears in the leading role of Anathema, directed by Maurice Gnesin, marking the first time a faculty member performs in an all-student production. Even today, faculty members sometimes appear in productions. Production photo from Anathema. Bergaman, photographer. Chicago Public Library, Special Collections and Preservation Division, GTA/Photographs Box Oversize 1, Folder 35.
Together Maurice Gnesin and David Itkin, who has become a highly regarded faculty member, shape the vision and curriculum of the school and give it the feel of a European conservatory. During the 1940s, the two lay the foundation for the School's long-term survival, building a national reputation as one of the great theatre training programs in history.
Bella Itkin, the daughter of David Itkin, graduates from the Goodman School of Drama. She begins her career as a faculty member and director at the Goodman School of Drama, and also teaches and directs at DePaul’s Department of Drama. She also serves as a founding member and artistic director of the Lake Zurich Playhouse, an acclaimed summer theatre company featuring many of the top names in the industry. During Bella’s 50 years of teaching, she becomes nationally known as an acting coach and later publishes “Acting: Preparation, Practice, Performance” with alumnus Richard Aven.
Meet the class of 1948 on Graduation Day!
Footage courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University
As part of a general curriculum reevaluation, DePaul University eliminates the Department of Drama. Both David and Bella Itkin leave DePaul but both remain on the faculty of the Goodman School of Drama. Over the next 30 years, DePaul will continue to find a way to bring theatre to the campus – with student performances in the Center Theatre on the third floor of the Lewis Center and later in the pit area of the Schmitt Academic Center.
Charlotte Chorpenning passes away, and Louise Dale Spoor is appointed Goodman Children's Theatre Director. Spoor is an alumna of both the undergraduate and graduate programs of the school and served as Business Manager for the school since 1931. She founds Coach House Press to publish plays for children's theatre.
At the end of the 1950s, the School is losing money and watching its audience base erode. Maurice Gnesin passes away, and the Art Institute conducts a national search to replace him. They hire Dr. John Reich as the new head. The school is losing audiences, and Reich is given wide-ranging power to rebuild. He sets the long-term goal of returning the professional repertory company to the program.
Photo of Dr. John Reich. Chicago Public Library, Special Collections and Preservation Division, GTA Photographs Series II Box 4, Folder 11.
Reich recruits Dr. Charles McGaw to the position of Senior Producer. McGaw published "Acting is Believing" in 1955, and gained national recognition for his approach to actor training. He hires a professional actor that season to play a lead role in a production he directs and invites critics to review the performance for the first time since 1931. The 7th edition of "Acting is Believing" is available at the DePaul University's John T. Richardson Library, call number 792.028 M145A1996. Request it.
Louise Dale Spoor passes away, and Bella Itkin is named Director of Children's Theatre. See the actors at play!
Footage courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University
John Reich receives a Ford Foundation grant of $10,000 as one of the 10 best producing directors in professional resident theatre in the United States. He uses the funds to hire top Broadway and London actors as guest artists at the school. Both Reich and the Goodman School of Drama receive much attention over the next several years as this grant enables him to hire actors such as Morris Carnovsky, Eugenie Leontovich, Walter Abel, Zoe Caldwell and Lillian Gish to perform with the students.
In 1959, for the first time, the Art Institute allows Reich to conduct a full subscription campaign, no longer restricting subscriptions to its members. The Goodman School of Drama grows in stature and professionalism, receiving critical acclaim and nationwide interest, and it returns to prominence as a center for theatre training. The pressure of operating both the school and repertory company intensifies.
John Reich appoints Charles McGaw Dean of the Goodman School of Drama so that he can concentrate more fully on creating a professional repertory company. The Actors’ Equity Association gives the school two years to create a full Equity theatre or return to student-only productions. The subscription base has grown from 1,000 to 15,000 since 1959, and although Equity sees the benefit of students training and working with professionals, it is wary of setting a precedent.
John Reich announces that the Art Institute has the funds to finance a professional repertory theatre. Printed announcement for the Repertory Theatre. Chicago Public Library, Special Collections and Preservation Division, GTA/PHF Box 26, Folder 15.
For the first time since 1931, the Repertory produces a season of fully produced professional theatre on the Goodman Theatre stage. As the Repertory's activities take on greater importance, there is less of a connection between the School and the professional company. The Studio Theatre is renovated for Goodman School of Drama students and is now open to the public for the first time in the school's history. Check out this poster from Joe Slowik’s Impressions of Grotowski
and don't forget to make note of the house manager! Flyer from Joe Slowik's Impressions of Grotowski. Chicago Public Library, Special Collections and Preservation Division, GTA/PHF Box 29, Folder 6.
September 8, 1975
The trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago vote to phase out the Goodman School of Drama over a three-year period, citing a $200,000 deficit. No new students are admitted as the school prepares to close in May 1978. During the next three years, faculty, staff, students, alumni, national arts leaders, and Chicagoans mount a campaign to save the School, and various possibilities are explored for how to keep it alive. . An announcement is made to press declaring the intentions of the faculty to save the school. Read the press release. Courtesy of DePaul University Special Collections and Archives.
You may notice some familiar names of Goodman School of Drama faculty members who transitioned with the school away from the Art Institute. Two members of The Theatre School's current faculty and staff moved with the Goodman School of Drama as well! Find out more about Janet C. Messmer
and Dawn G. McKesey
July 1, 1977
The Repertory Company of the Goodman Theatre incorporates as the Chicago Theatre Group, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation separate from the Art Institute of Chicago. Today the Goodman Theatre continues to build a worldwide reputation for its work. Our school's history is intertwined with their repertory company, and we celebrate their triumphs. Also, many Theatre School alumni, faculty, and staff bring their artistic talents to Goodman Theatre each season. See what the Repertory Company is up to today!
Rev. John T. Richardson, C.M., then Executive Vice-President of DePaul University, assisted by Howard Sulkin, Vice-President for Planning, begin to investigate and negotiate the acquisition of the Goodman School of Drama.
February 6, 1978
An agreement is signed providing for the Goodman School of Drama to be incorporated into DePaul University. Also, during this time, Rea Warg is named Acting Dean of the Goodman School of Dama, as McGaw suddenly passes away. Warg leads the School while a national search is conducted for a new dean.
July 1, 1978
The Goodman School of Drama becomes the 9th college of DePaul University!
The Goodman School of Drama is housed at DePaul University in the McGaw Fine Arts Building on the Lincoln Park Campus and shares space with the School of Music and the Art Department. The first production done at the school is Royal Gambit
, performed in the Commons. Children's theatre performances continue to take place at the Goodman Theatre, and other performances take place at various venues.
John Ransford Watts is appointed the new Dean of the DePaul/Goodman School of Drama. Under Watts’ leadership, the school transitions and transforms into an integral part of DePaul University. Ultimately, Watts’ emphasis on excellence leads to the school’s national recognition and reputation as a rigorous, disciplined, “legendary training ground.” At this point, the school has enrolled approximately 100 students. There are approximately 25 faculty and staff members.
Photo by Amy Rothblatt: John Ransford Watts, 1993. Courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
August 8, 1980
The Children's Theatre Association of America (today known as the American Alliance for Theatre and Education) presents the prestigious Sara Spencer Award for excellence in children's theatre to the DePaul/Goodman Children's Theatre. Bella Itkin accepts on our behalf. During the last 50 years the children's theatre has "sought to inspire, educate, and develop a more responsible creative young citizenry with the belief that today's young audience will create the world of tomorrow." Countless Chicagoans trace their first theatre experience to a performance of the Goodman Children's Theatre, today inspiring youngsters under the name Chicago Playworks. Buy your tickets today!
One of the first Chicago Live: the Arts
events is held and features guest Geraldine Page, an alumna of the school. It is hosted by Bella Itkin. Today, Chicago Live: the Arts
continues to thrive as a noon-time informal discussion; held in The Theatre School lobby. These events remain free and open to the public. Photo: Geraldine Page with Bella Itkin, faculty and staff members. Courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Ric Murphy joins the faculty, and works closely with Bella Itkin and school leadership to modernize and develop the performance curriculum for the next generation of artists. The reputation of the school continues to grow in all disciplines. The school's performances move to the Cortelyou Commons building on DePaul's Lincoln Park Campus, which has recently been renovated into a theatre building by faculty member and alumnus Jim Maronek (now Professor Emeritus). Classes take place in various rooms at the university. The scene shop is located at the Lyceum, the design studio doubles as a performance space and the Alumni Hall and Hayes Healy gym are used for movement and dance classes. You can find more information and photos from the 1980-81 season here.
Photo: The Commons as a theatre, designed by Jim Maronek, The Theatre School at DePaul University.
The first Graduate Showcase, then known as Talent-Linkage-Chicago Day, is developed by Dean Watts, John Bridges, and former faculty member Jane Alderman. Acting students from BFA and MFA programs are presented to Chicago-area theatre, film and TV producers, casting directors, and agents. Later the event is expanded to include Design/Tech and Theatre Studies graduates, and the actors presentation now includes performances in New York and Los Angeles. The tradition is alive and thriving! Meet this year’s graduates!
WTTW, Chicago's public television station, broadcasts a documentary it has produced about the school. It is titled So You Want to be an Actor? and refers to the school as the "West Point of theatre training." The school now numbers approximately 35 faculty and staff and 200 students in Acting, Directing, and Design disciplines.
A five-year transfer agreement between the Art Institute and DePaul University ends, and the license to use the “Goodman” name expires. The Board of Trustees of DePaul University adopts a new title.
The school is now known as The Theatre School at DePaul University, founded as the Goodman School of Drama in 1925. Also, for the first time in 60 years the children's theatre (now under the leadership of Artistic Director Carol D. Delk) ceases production at the Goodman Memorial Theatre and moves its season of performances to the auditorium of the First National Bank. Read a program from Chicago Playworks at the First National Bank Auditorium, courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
After an extensive evaluation of The Theatre School's first eight years at DePaul University, the Board of Trustees and administration give their endorsement to the school and guarantee its future at the University. With this endorsement, the university purchases the St. Vincent's Elementary School on Kenmore Ave.—which becomes the new home of The Theatre School. Later we also obtain the former convent across the street; The Theatre School Annex.
Photo from Kenmore Ave. Ribbon Cutting. Courtesy of DePaul University Special Collections and Archives.
The Theatre School creates the Theatre Studies program – with Head of Theatre Studies Donald W. Ilko. The new program awards degrees in Playwriting, History/Criticism, Children's Drama/Youth Theatre and General Theatre Arts. The Children’s Theatre degree is phased out, and in 1990 a Theatre Management degree is developed under the leadership of Leslie Shook. In 1992-1993, the History/Criticism degree is renamed Dramaturgy/Criticism. Learn more about Theatre Studies
During the 80s and 90s, the addition of numerous nationally-renowned faculty members allows the school to develop its training in several key ways. Movement training expands to include work in various physical disciplines, including modern dance, yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, and stage combat. Voice and speech training incorporates the work of Lessac, Linklater, and other language and dialect techniques. Collaboration between disciplines is encouraged. As the curriculum deepens in all areas, the primary philosophy of the School remains the same—to provide intense and practical training in all aspects of theatre arts in order to prepare young artists for careers in the profession.
May 26, 1988
DePaul University announces the purchase of the Blackstone Theatre from the Shubert Organization. Read the original press release from The Theatre School's PR Office.
February 7, 1989
Seven months after the purchase, the Blackstone Theatre reopens to a full house of school children for a production of The Phantom Tollbooth
. The grand re-opening occurs on March 21st with the school's production of The Misanthrope
. Preliminary renovations of the facility cost $700,000 and include the purchase of a 240-dimmer computerized lighting system, a Sennheiser Infra-red listening system and the complete replacement of the stage floor.Photo: Opening Night at the Blackstone Theatre, 1989 , courtesy of The Theatre School
The first annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts gala is held to raise funds for the purchase of the Blackstone Theatre and for student scholarships. A spring tradition, the Awards for Excellence in the Arts recognize outstanding leaders in the performing arts at a benefit to raise money for The Theatre School Scholarship Fund. Save the date for the next Annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts!
Rev. John T. Richardson, C.M., is presented a Joseph Jefferson Award for his outstanding leadership and efforts in the rescuing, nurturing, and refurbishing both the Goodman School of Drama/The Theatre School and the Blackstone Theatre. Photo of Rev. John T. Richardson, C.M. with presenter Maggie Daley at the Awards Presentation. Photo by Steve Shay., Courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University
Nov. 20, 1992
The Blackstone Theatre is renamed the Merle Reskin Theatre, acknowledging a major gift received from the College of Law alumnus Harold Reskin, in honor of his wife Merle. The gift was pledged at the time of the theatre's purchase in 1988. Read The Merle Reskin Theatre dedication program book, courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
The first annual Wrights of Spring Festival, founded by faculty member Dean Corrin in collaboration with then-students Adam Mathias and Diane Herrera, is produced at the school. Alive and thriving today, this series presents world premiere readings, workshops, and productions of the work of playwrights in the BFA Playwriting program—at many levels of production and featuring cross-disciplinary collaborations. This festival is free and open to the public.
Flyer announcing first Wrights of Spring Festival, Courtesy of Dean Corrin, The Theatre School at DePaul University
John Watts retires as Dean and, after a national search, the University appoints Michael Maggio, associate artistic director of the Goodman Theatre (and a professional director with more than 20 years’ experience and a nationwide reputation) as the eighth head of the school. Maggio had been an adjunct faculty member since 1996. During Maggio's season as dean, the school presents one of the most ambitious productions of its history when faculty member James Ostholthoff directs both parts of Tony Kushner's Angels in America in rotating repertory.
Photo: Angels In America, Part Two: Perestroika, photo by John Bridges, The Theatre School
The faculty and staff of The Theatre School adopt the current Mission Statement and Values that continue to guide the school's vision. Learn more.
Dean Maggio passes away following an illness. Hundreds of friends, family, colleagues and Chicagoans gather to mourn his loss. His artistic legacy is celebrated in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune
, and Chicago Sun Times
. Following his passing, The Michael Maggio award is established as one of the Michael Merritt Design Awards. These awards are presented to theatrical designers committed to excellence and collaboration. The Michael Merritt Endowment also gives annual scholarships to budding design students at Columbia College Chicago (where Merritt and Maggio taught), Northwestern University, and The Theatre School at DePaul University, a tradition that continues to this day. Learn more about Dean Maggio's emerging designer award and his legacy.
After a national search, John Culbert (previously the school’s Associate Dean and a member of the faculty as Head of Lighting Design) is named Dean in July, 2001. Culbert had been named Acting Dean in July, 2000, as Dean Maggio battled his illness. The curriculum expands and adapts for the 21st century. The Masters of Fine Arts degrees in Lighting, Costume, and Scenic Design are reevaluated and discontinued. A structure to support faculty and staff professional work is developed – empowering them to bring best practices back into the classroom, and impacting all disciplines of theatre training at the school.
Photo: Dean Culbert, 2010. Courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Fall, 2002 Lisa Portes
is named Artistic Director of Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences
(which used to be known as the Goodman Children's Theatre) and Dexter Bullard
is named the first official Artistic Director of The Theatre School Showcase Series of Contemporary Plays & Classics
. Previously, the Dean had unofficially served as the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of The Theatre School Showcase Series.
The first annual New Playwrights Series occurs – presenting a fully-realized world-premiere production of a play written at The Theatre School. The first production is Eikon, written by then Theatre School student Alex Perry. Today, the series is presented annually, and features the work of a current or recent graduate of the BFA Playwriting program. New Playwrights Series productions are free and open to the public. Learn more about the New Playwrights Series.
Photo: Eikon production photo by John Bridges, The Theatre School
The Theatre School launches the Master of Fine Arts degree in Arts Leadership in conjunction with the highly-acclaimed Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The program is jointly supervised by veteran theatre producer and full-time faculty member Alan Salzenstein, and Executive Director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Criss Henderson.
Learn more about Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The Theatre School launches the revolutionary Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Sound Design, one of three programs in the nation at the time, as an additional layer of collaboration in production practice at the school. Learn more about the BFA Sound Design program.
April 19, 2010
At the Annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts, Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. (President, DePaul University) announces to our key supporters that The Theatre School will have a new home at Racine and Fullerton on the west edge of the Lincoln Park campus, designed by the renowned architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli and Associates
May 20, 2010
DePaul University launches the public phase of its Many Dreams, One Mission Campaign
, which includes plans for a new Theatre School facility. The Theatre School creates a unique performance for the university-wide Gala celebration. The Campaign for the Performing Arts, the third largest fundraising initiative in the Many Dreams, One Mission Campaign
, is co-chaired by Jim Denny, Mary Pat Hay, and alumna Sondra Healy, and a committee is formed. Photo: Faculty members Damon Kiely and Dean Corrin at the Campaign rehearsal. Courtesy of DePaul University's Office of Advancement.
January, 2011 DePaul's historic Merle Reskin Theatre (which opened as the Blackstone Theatre) turns 100 years old! The faculty, staff, and students of The Theatre School celebrate all month long. Hear our community explain why we love the Merle Reskin Theatre.
Footage Courtesy of The Theatre School at DePaul University
Professor Emerita Bella Itkin Konrath passes away in Chicago. At a Memorial Service in June of 2011, over a hundred of her students, friends, and family members come together to celebrate her life. She is memorialized in numerous publications. Read Bella's Obituary in the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune.
June 1, 2011 DePaul University breaks ground for the new Theatre School facilities at Racine and Fullerton in a festive ceremony.
Footage courtesy of DePaul University's Office of Advancement
September 12, 2013
The Theatre School celebrates the formal opening and dedication of our new artistic home at 2350 N Racine Avenue. Designed by renowned architecht César Pelli and his firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the design of the building was informed by its dual function: to be a performance and public space, as well as a conservatory of all theatrical disciplines. Learn more about our new artistic home.
Photo by Jeffrey Carrion, DePaul University
Our story is far from over! Check out our News & Events page for the latest information about productions, announcements, and happenings.
Also, you can keep up with our vast network of alumni by reading The Theatre School News—a newsletter published monthly since 1997, by Assistant Dean John Bridges.
This page was curated by Andrea Tichy in 2012-13 and is based on written history compiled by Lara Goetsch (former staff member) for The Theatre School's 75th Anniversary Commemorative Program book in May 2000 . Additional contributors include John Bridges, Dean Corrin, Janet Messmer, and Leslie Shook. Special thanks to Andrea Bainbridge and Kathryn DeGraff, DePaul University Libraries; as well as Sarah Zimmerman, Morag Walsh and the Special Collections and Preservation Division of Chicago Public Libraries; and the former and current faculty and staff of the Goodman School of Drama and The Theatre School at DePaul University.